McAdam: Bard's slump aside, Sox need Papelbon

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McAdam: Bard's slump aside, Sox need Papelbon

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- On Wednesday, for the third time in the last week, Daniel Bard lost a game in the late innings for the Red Sox. The 5-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, like the two games before it, was clearly a costly one for the Sox.

Had Bard locked down the 4-2 lead with which he was entrusted in the eighth, the Sox would sport a five-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays, rather the four-game edge they currently maintain.

For that matter, had Bard performed against the Toronto Blue Jays last Wednesday, Tim Wakefield would have earned his 200th career victory six days earlier. And had he not surrendered the 10th-inning base hit to Evan Longoria three days later -- the game was tied at the time after the Red Sox pulled even with two ninth-inning homers -- the Sox perhaps would not have been swept at Tropicana Field.

Either way, they would have been closer to the front-running Yankees and safely distant from the hard-charging Rays.

Resolved, then: Bard's had a bad week, In the bigger picture, he's had a disappointing month. His slump has been almost as puzzling as the reaction the slump has generated.

Some have taken this relatively small sample size -- four poor outings since Sept. 1 -- and used it as evidence that Bard is ill-suited to become the Red Sox' closer of the future, in turn necessitating the re-signing of Jonathan Papelbon.

Those people have it only half-right.

The Red Sox should re-sign Papelbon this offseason. Their motivation, however, has nothing to do with projecting Bard as his replacement.

Instead, the Red Sox should view the two as a tandem, two equally essential parts to late-inning success.

"I'm nothing without him,'' asserted Jonathan Papelbon Thursday, "and he's nothing without me."

Papelbon's logic is unassailable. The Sox desperately need Bard to get them to Papelbon and the ninth. And they need Papelbon to be the last line of defense when a late-inning lead -- and by extension, the game itself -- is one the line.

To suggest that the last handful of outings are some sort of proof Bard can't handle the pressure is absurd. Where were Bard's lack of nerves when he was stranding 29-of-32 baserunners into late August?

Bard's role as the primary set-up man is, in some significant ways, far more difficult than Papelbon's. While Papelbon usually enters a clean inning with no outs and no baserunners and often has to protect a lead of two or three runs, Bard frequently is called upon to clean up someone else's mess.

It's a role he's filled expertly -- until the last two weeks. Papelbon would have anywhere near the number of save opportunities he's had without Bard clearing the dreck in the seventh or eighth innings.

Laugh if you must at the "hold'' stat -- in the age of advanced metrics, it's hopelessly inadequate. But think of holds as the set-up version of a save: occasionally misleading and open to interpretation, but mostly meaningful.

If closers are ultimately judged by the number of times they successfully preserve a lead (measured in saves), then set-up men are similarly charged with maintaining the lead they've been given (measures in holds).

And on the matter of holds, Bard is second in the league. He's also the only Red Sox reliever since 1969 to have two seasons of 31 or more holds. Bard set the franchise record with 32 in 2010. Even with his recent struggles, he has the second-best WHIP among qualifying American League relievers.

The last two weeks excepting, Bard does his job so well that it would be ludicrous to ask him to do anything else. And having him replace Papelbon would be doubly ludicrous, since it would mean that the Sox would then need someone to replace Bard himself.

Those high-leverage innings are more diffucult to navigate than many save situations.

Conversely, until a pitcher has successfully walked the ninth-inning tightrope, then it can't automatically be assumed that Bard can necessarily do Papelbon's job. Recent baseball history is littered with guys who thrive in the seventh or eighth, but stumble in the ninth. (And a good morning to you, Mike Timlin).

That's why the answer isn't for the Red Sox to allow Papelbon to leave while slipping Bard into the closer's spot. Instead, the Sox should extend Papelbon -- either through arbitration for what surely would be a record award for a relief pitcher, or in a two- or three-year deal that would reward Papelbon with a better AAV (average annual value) in excess of his current 12 mullion.

Such a contract would enable Papelbon to boast of his salary standard-setting status, while protecting the Red Sox from the vagaries of long-term contracts for over-30 closers.

The notion that Bard's recent run of blown saves is indicative of some character flaw, and not what it so obviously is -- nothing more than a bad stretch -- is laughable. When Papelbon led the A.L. in blown saves last year,it didn't prevent him from returning this year and enjoying his best season since 2008.

Retaining Papelbon is critical, of course, but not because the Red Sox lack options at closer for 2012, but rather, because it would give them the best of both worlds in the bullpen.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Quotes, notes and stars: Ziegler stumbles in Red Sox' 4-3 loss

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Quotes, notes and stars: Ziegler stumbles in Red Sox' 4-3 loss

BOSTON -- Quotes, Notes and Stars from the Red Sox' 4-3 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday.

QUOTES

"For maybe the first time when he hasn't put the ball on the ground consistently, that's the one spot that shows up here today.''
-- John Farrell on Brad Ziegler, who gave up the game-winning homer to Miguel Cabrera in the ninth inning.

"Unfortunately, we're one-swing-of-the-bat difference here today.''
-- Farrell

"It wasn't a horrible pitch; it just wasn't a great one either.''
-- Zieger on the pitch to Cabrera.

"Shoot, I've got to be honest. I haven't even looked at the schedule. I know there's 162 [games] on there. That's about all I know.''
-- Dustin Pedroia, when asked about the team's upcoming string of road games.

NOTES

-- The Red Sox dropped to 11-14 against teams from the American League Central.

-- The series sweep was the first of the season suffered by the Red Sox. Every other MLB team had already been swept more than once.

-- Pedroia has reached base safely in 30 straight games. It's the second-longest streak of his career.

-- Xander Bogaerts hit safely in every game on the homestand, batting .447 in that span.

-- Seven of Sandy Leon's 10 doubles this season have come in day games.

-- Aaron Hill collected his first extra-base hit (double) as a member of the Red Sox.

-- Victor Martinez reached base in all five plate appearances, becoming the first Tiger to do so at Fenway since Pudge Rodriguez in 2008.

-- The Tigers are 7-2 in their last nine Fenway games.

-- Opposing hitters had been just 1-for-22 against Brad Ziegler as a member of the Red Sox before Cabrera's homer.

STARS
 

1) Miguel Cabrera -- He was 3-for-4 with an intentional walk, including the game-winning homer in the top of the ninth.

2) Victor Martinez -- He remains one of the game's best pure hitters, which he demonstrated with four hits and two RBI.

3) Michael Fulmer -- He continued his Rookie of the Year case with 7 2/3 strong innings, allowing three runs on seven hits.

First impressions: Detroit Tigers 4, Boston Red Sox 3

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First impressions: Detroit Tigers 4, Boston Red Sox 3

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 4-3 loss to Detroit on Wednesday afternoon:

1) Eduardo Rodriguez pitched pretty well, but not well -- or deep -- enough.

Rodriguez has now made three starts since coming back from Pawtucket and any one of them was better than his starts from earlier this year.

He's no longer tipping his pitches, he's commanding better in general and his fastball has been more powerful.

But he's also giving up a lot of hits (19 in 18 innings) and he's gotten through the sixth inning just once in his three outings. For a team short in its bullpen, that's leaving a big workload for the relievers.

2) The late-inning comebacks have been in short supply.

Yes,  the Red Sox have scored runs by the boatload at times. And yes, they've mostly played hard this season.

But before Wednesday, the Sox had been just 3-35 when trailing after seven innings and they had enjoyed only two walkoff wins all season.

Those numbers can be misleading, of course. Teams can dig out from early holes -- as the Red Sox did Tuesday night.

But the ninth-inning rallies haven't happened much. In fact, on the current home stand, the Sox have had the top-to-middle part of the order up in the bottom of the ninth -- with David Ortiz getting an at-bat each time -- on four separate occasions, trailing by a run or two, and couldn't produce a winning rally.

3) Clay Buchholz may be pitching himself out of the doghouse

After going weeks -- literally --between appearances, Buchholz has been called upon four times in the last seven games.

Granted, in most of those games, the Red Sox have been trailing. But the games were such that they were still within reach, contradicting John Farrell's remarks late last week when he broadly hinted that he didn't trust Buchholz in games that were close.

Slowly, however, Buchholz could be earning some trust coming out of the bullpen. He had a perfect inning Wednesday with the Sox trailing by a run at the time.

Wednesday's Red Sox-Tigers lineup: E-Rod aims to avoid sweep

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Wednesday's Red Sox-Tigers lineup: E-Rod aims to avoid sweep

BOSTON -- The Red Sox send Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound as they attempt to salvage the final game of their homestand and avoid a sweep at the hands of the Tigers.

Today's lineups:

TIGERS:
Ian Kinsler 2B
Jose Iglesias SS
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Victor Martinez DH
Nick Castellanos 3B
Justin Upton LF
Mike Aviles RF
James McCann C
Tyler Collins CF
---
Michael Fullmer P

RED SOX:
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Aaron Hill 3B
Travis Shaw 1B
Sandy Leon C
Brock Holt LF
---
Eduardo Rodriguez P